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The Three Pillars – DnDnext

February 8, 2012

This article is inspired by a very cool article by Shawn Merwin over at Critical Hits. He reflects on his experience at DDXP and how the DnDnext design team is focused on the three pillars of the game: combat, roleplaying, and exploration. He goes on to say what he misses most about earlier editions is the exploration in many senses of the word.

It reminded me of our recent old school mod conversion, and how that seemed to recapture a lot of magic from the earlier editions, albeit using 4e tactics for when combat breaks out. Maybe we’re secret DnDnext prophets, or maybe we just missed some element from earlier editions too, but giving an old school feel to new mechanics looks like what 5e will be.

Our exploration of the Lost City is currently on hiatus, but the two sessions we had harkened back to earlier editions. The rogue-like character is checking every door for traps, the wizard hangs back to hurl explosions of magic at foes, the valiant fighters take the brunt of the attacks from the opposition. In between combats, the DM describes the environment, and the characters interact with the environment and each other, and not every encounter ends up in a fight. If you’re eagerly awaiting the invitation to the public beta and need something to tide you over, try converting an old module to 4e. It’s easier than you might think, and can lead to an awesome synergy of editions. If you’ve got some old modules on the shelf you can use those, or try some from Dragonsfoot.

The balance between the three pillars is largely an agreement between players and the DM. I am not one of those who gets all misty-eyed about playing for 4 hours and not rolling a single die. When I play, I’m there to roll dice, and usually put the hurt on some bad guys. That being said I really enjoy the exploration side, and coming up with creative solutions to problems presented in the adventure. I personally struggle with doing voices for NPCs and improving interesting interactions outside of box text. On the other side of the screen I enjoy some social encounters, but I lean heavily on the other two pillars. Other members of the groups that I roll with probably feel differently, and have their own preferences in regards to the pillars.

How do you balance the pillars in your game? Heavy on the RP? All combat all the time? Let us know in the comments.

Categories: 5e, Adventure, DnD, Lore, RPGs, Tips
  1. Steve
    February 8, 2012 at 2:31 pm

    I would say the games I play in and run lean most heavily on RP and combat. The traditional kind of exploration Mr. Merwin identifies(delving with a ten foot pole etc)is not a regular occurance. That part of the game tends to be taken up in the form solving puzzles, dealing with hazards and trying to find inventive ways to interact with a combat or social encounter environment.

    On the other hand, I have always thought of the other types of exploration he highlighted as being in the RP category. These things certainly have a strong place in our games. Setting is a big deal to my DM in D&D, and I have a real taste for playing with rules when I run a game.

    It is probably worth noting that in my own experiences, exploration gets short changed as a result of time constraints. Everyone I play with is in their late twenties or early thirties. Game time is precious and in our houses we want to spend most of our time interacting with the social aspects of our characters and then whacking bad guys. Designing, and then navigating places filled with secret doors and out of combat traps is a time sink. I think we pass over this stuff because for us it doesn’t feel like it moves the plot or challenges the characters in a way that we, personally, feel is meaningful.

    Having said all that, every once in a while we all get the itch for an old school crawl through a gauntlet. It’s always fun. It just isn’t the bread and butter of what we do now.

    • February 8, 2012 at 2:42 pm

      Nice perspective! I can certainly understand trying to squeeze every ounce out of game time available, and I’m in a similar situation in regards to ages/time. It really just depends on what the group feels is quality time. Some feel negotiating a treaty with a council of warlords is awesome. Others feel it’s more fun to feel their way around in the dark, dodging traps and exploring the unknown. Still others like nothing more than defending a dwarven fortress in a mountain pass from a horde of marauding orcs. Really a balance of all these things makes a truly dynamic game. The balance of what your players feel is the coolest is up to each individual group.

  1. February 18, 2012 at 4:08 pm
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